Dzongu is a triangular region in North Sikkim. It is bounded by the Teesta River in the south-east, Tholung Chu River in the north-east and by mighty mountains in the west. It borders the Kangchenjunga Biosphere Reserve.
Dzongu has been established as an official reserve for the Lepcha people , the aborginal inhabitants of Sikkim. The Lepchas have strong ties with the nature and have lived here for centuries. An understanding of their culture, customs and language helps to foster an appreciation of the beautiful mountains, deep forests, and the emerald-colored Teesta River.
The region sees little tourist activity and hence seems almost untouched. It is sparsely populated and most of it is covered with dense vegetation. Rice fields and Cardamom plantations can be seen near the villages.
Dzongu is about 70 Km from the state capital, Gangtok. It is easily reachable by road. Permission from Sikkim Government is required to enter Dzongu. One can obtain permission from the Tourism office in Gangtok or one in Delhi. Tour operators can arrange the permits before reaching Sikkim.
The nearest Airport is in Bagdogra in West Bengal. From here one can either take a pre-paid Taxi (from within the Airport) or one can go to Siliguri to find a shared taxi. Indian Airlines, Jet (via Jet Konnect), Go Air have flights to this airport. One can either take a taxi upto Gangtok, which is about 4 hours drive, or one can take a direct taxi to Dzongu which can take the route via Singtam to reach Dzongu in about 5 hours.
The nearest Rail head is New Jalpaiguri Railway Station, not far from the Airport. One can take a taxi up to Gangtok or directly to Dzongu from here. Bus services from here can be availed up to Gangtok.
An exclusive taxi from the Airport/ Railway station, to Gangtok, will cost from Rs. 2,500 for a non-AC Indica (for max. 4 people) to Rs. 4000 for bigger, SUV style car.
A shared Taxi from Gangtok, directly upto Dzongu, can be had from the Vajra stand in Gangtok. However these taxis may not ply at all times of the day. Another option is to reach Mangan and get-off in the main market. From there, one can easily find an exclusive vehicle/ Shared taxi to Dzongu. Lower Dzongu is only 10 Km from Mangan, which is the capital of North Sikkim District. Inner line permits are required which can be arranged by Local Registered tour operators only.
To get around in Dzongu, you will either have to hire a Taxi or go hiking. Some destinations are only a short hike away, others may require 3-4 days of backpacking. Shared Taxis ply from near the Police Check-post.
Almost all of the vegetarian food that you get in Dzongu is grown there. Lepcha people do not use any modern fertilizer or pesticide in their farming. Hence everything grown there is Organic.
Rice and Large Cardamom are the two main crops grown there. Rice is grown in contour farming at the sides of the hills while cardamom can take root on slopes as well. The weather conditions suit the growth of cardamom.
Rice is the staple food there. Wheat is not grown. Lepchas do not use much oil in their cooking and hence the food is either boiled or roasted. But it is tasty none the less!
Lepchas prepare non-vegetarian fare as well. These include dishes made of chicken, beef, fish and pork. Fish is usually caught from the nearby river.
There are no hotels in Dzongu. As eco-tourism initiative, some families have started 'Homestays' here. One can experience the hospitality of the Lepcha people by living as a part of their family in their home. It also provides an excellent opportunity to understand this old tribe.
Eco-tourism was started by some NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) working in this area in around 2006. Training were given to the families and lot of effort was put in to make this area more attractive to the tourists. However, the NGOs left the area after some time and now the project has no leader. Some families continue to provide homestay and the hosts can arrange everything on request.
Lepchas are shy & simple people who fear ill-reputation. Hence, Dzongu area is very safe in terms of crime.
One may encounter a landslide on the way, in the rainy season. But the sites of the landslides are usually same every year and are known to the locals.